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Garden Researcher Assists with Establishment of National Park
On July 7, Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) officially established Lomami National Park, the first national park since 1970 and only the eighth in the country. It covers 3,426 square miles (99% the size of Yellowstone National Park) of nearly unexplored moist tropical forest and grassland in the east central part of the country.
Missouri Botanical Garden researcher Roy Gereau worked with Marc Sosef from the Botanic Garden Meise (Belgium) and Corneille Ewango from the Wildlife Conservation Society to inventory biodiversity in the region in an effort to support the establishment of the park. During the spring of 2015, they traveled by river and foot to make 452 herbarium collections representing 1,109 individual specimens. Terese and John Hart of the Lukuru Foundation, which was responsible for the management of the park during planning for its legal recognition, provided transportation and logistics for the expedition.
These collections and associated field observations made it very clear that there are sharp phytogeographic distinctions between the various habitats present in the area. The deep soils of the river banks and gradual slopes above them support tall, legume-dominated forests composed of species with central and western African (Guineo-Congolean) affinities, while the very flat and almost treeless grasslands on poorly drained sandy soils at the top of the slopes support a vegetation with relationships almost exclusively with Zambesian or Sudanian ecosystems to the south and north of the Central African forest zone.
“This is a real win for conservation when a wildlife conservation foundation can partner with a botanical garden to demonstrate that both the animals and plants are important and special and convince the Congolese government that a huge conservation site is deserving of long-term protection,” said Senior Vice President of Science and Conservation Dr. Jim Miller.
Gereau and his collaborators are working to secure funding to return to the park in another growing season to enhance further the knowledge of flora and vegetation in the area and support its continued high conservation status as a National Park.